Into the new year with design & society

January 16, 2009

5 January 2009: The Business and Media section of yesterday’s Observer is virtually themed: the excessive consumption of the Festive Season interbred with an accelerating alarum over the dwindling credit that chiefly furnishes all the consumption in the first place makes for a pathological publication. We look at recycling your gifts or auctioning them for charity; at which stores will and won’t give you a refund for returns; at renting luxuries to minimise capital outlay; at managing credit card debt; and all in the framework of “an economic outlook like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes”, one that “could mean going back to the thrift and austerity our parents’ generation saw during the war and the 1950s”.


Is it because I’m a designer that I find all this so terrifically exciting? The collapse of retail so apocalyptic and thrilling? It’s a truism that designers – in principle at least – love limits and are stimulated by the tension created by production constraints; money for example. If no-one’s got any money imagine how creative we’ll have to be! The very idea of thrift and austerity populates my head with improvisations and contrivances and making do and mending and problem-solving and pooling resources and endless opportunities to create a solution you can no longer just go and buy new.


Ha! Just wait until our boiler packs up. Or worse, Alliance & Leicester go bust. Yikes. One more warning that we should all be judicious in our estimation of what design can and cannot achieve. Too little and designers just sound like stylists with a very confined role. Too much and nobody knows what you’re talking about unless they’re a designer. Now that we have re-christened the Design pages of the RSA website Design & Society careful calibration of this potential is more or less our raison d’etre in the coming year.

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